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Civilization Revolution

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Problem: The player’s mindset changes from micromanagement to macromanagement as the game progresses, but the controls don’t keep up.

The most tedious task in Civilization Revolution is being in the lead.

At the beginning of the game, the player is very much in a micromanagement mode. They start the game with one city and one unit. After a few turns, they might have three cities and five units. At this stage, the player is carefully micromanaging everything. They can take the time to lay out the best path for their units, manage the workers for their cities, and choose the best buildings to produce based on the resources near their cities.

As the game progresses, the number of cities and units increases dramatically. Particularly for a player who did some military conquest during the game, they might have ten cities and 40 units to manage each turn, with more being produced every turn. But the tools they have for managing those cities are the same as in the early game – they must choose a path for each individual unit, and choose their buildings one at a time.

A few tools help, such as grouping three units into an army, or setting a rally point that you can send units to quickly – but mostly these measures just serve to call attention to all the other potential time-saving controls that the game is lacking. The more a player is winning, the more tedious these routine tasks become; a player near the end of a military conquest strategy victory might spend five minutes each turn just giving movement orders to their 50+ units, and only 30 seconds fighting meaningful battles and making choices.

Solution: Create a second layer of controls to automate tasks.

Civilization Revolution can take some advice from the RTS genre, in terms of automatic rally points, build queues, and super-armies. Furthermore, I think the game could really benefit from the ability to create simple scripts, allowing the player to automate some of the most tedious tasks.

Rally points: When a city is doing nothing but producing units for the war effort, I should be able to tell it to send those units to form themselves into armies and head to a designated rally point without my input. I don’t care about those units until they’re on the front line and ready to fight, so don’t tell me about them until they arrive.

Build queues: Currently, every city that needs a new build order will pull the camera over and ask the player for new orders each round. Because the player is jumping around between their many cities, they don’t get to really know each city. It’s like speed dating, I suppose. Instead of asking the player to spend 30 seconds with a city once every three turns, ask them to spend five minutes with the city once every thirty turns. Allow them to look at the city’s surroundings in depth, think about which buildings will be most useful and in which order, and create a build queue so that the city can run on autopilot for the next half-hour or so.

The real benefit here isn’t that the player’s cities will be more effective – it’s that they will have the time to think about their cities, learn their terrain and resources, and understand which areas are most critical to their empire. Essentially, each city in Civilization Revolution is a character in the player’s party, and we want the personalities of those characters to have a chance to come through. Perhaps one city is a real fisherman’s paradise, and another city is poorly-defended, but has resource-rich mountains nearby. A build queue encourages the player to notice those personalities, without making the game drag on for eternity.

Super-Armies: Civilization Revolution already allows players to group three like units into a single army. Expand that concept, and let the player group three armies into a super-army, and three super-armies into a grand army. Maybe those individual armies have to fight individually (to prevent their combat stats from becoming absurdly high), but it reduces the number of commands the player has to give, and simplifies their turn…especially if, like in an RTS, they can create super-armies out of different types of units. As long as they’re all going to the same place, why should I have to order them to go there individually?

Scripting: Being able to give more detailed instructions for distribution of troops would be beneficial. For example, if I have a city producing defensive units, I want to be able to tell it “Produce three units, and form them into an army. Send that army to a city that does not already have a defensive army unit. When they arrive, order them to defend. If every city has a defensive army, start producing offensive units, and send them to the city closest to the most recent battle I started. When they arrive, ask for an order. If I gain a new city, produce a defensive army for it.”

That’s a fairly complicated example, but that’s what I have to do manually in order to make sure my cities are defended. And it’s not interesting or fun – it’s just tedium that could be done with a script, as described above.

Mixing in other building orders would allow the system to be even more robust – allowing the player to say “Build a defensive army, and defend this city. Then build walls. Then build barracks. Then build a new defensive army with the barracks upgrade. Then build an aqueduct. Then build a workshop. Then build an offensive army, and send them to the capital.”

Implementing a scripting system might be too much for Civilization Revolution (my solutions are supposed to be stuff that could be added to the game fairly quickly during the last stages of development), but I think that future games like Civilization should consider allowing the player to automate tedious tasks. If the player’s tasks don’t involve interesting and meaningful choices, those tasks are just detracting from the game.

RPGs are starting to learn this, such as the Gambit system of Final Fantasy 12, and the automated party members of Final Fantasy 13. Some choices are meaningful, but if the choice is a non-choice – “Use heal anytime someone drops below 30% HP” – let the player figure it out once, offload the tedious tasks onto the computer, and move on to more fun choices.

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Borderlands

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Problem: Once players are a few levels apart, they can’t effectively play together anymore.

Borderlands offers a lot of ways to play: single-player, drop-in multiplayer, and local splitscreen, and you can take one character and level them up in any mode. Starting a new game and playing with a friend works great…but if one player plays more than another, the fun starts to break down. Once the players are more than 4-5 levels apart, one of them is going to feel useless.

One option is for the lower-level player to host the game. But then the gameplay is trivial for a higher-level player, because their enemies don’t pose a challenge. They’ll rack up tons of kills, but feel bored doing it.

Or, the higher-level player can host the game. This is even worse – the lower-level player will die in just two or three hits, and their weapons will be unable to damage the foes they meet. It’s not just that they’re weak – they’re essentially not even playing the game anymore.

The players could agree to only play with each other, and make sure they keep their levels equal. But the ability to carry one character from single player to local multiplayer to online is one of the best features of Borderlands, and it’s not fair to expect the players to abandon that feature.

Solution: Equalize the characters’ levels, but offer the high-level players the high-level rewards they deserve.

When multiple players connect, the lowest-level character automatically sets the difficulty for the game. All of the enemies the group fights will be scaled to the lowest-level member. The higher-level characters take a penalty to their health, shields, damage, and skill effectiveness to bring them in line with a character of that level. The characters keep their skills, levels, and weapons; they’re just not as effective.

The twist is, the higher-level players continue to receive higher-level rewards. If a level 45 player is playing with a level 20 character, and kills a level 20 enemy, they receive XP as if they had killed a level 45 enemy. This may sound like a huge bonus, but remember – with the level-lowering, defeating a level 20 enemy should be as difficult for this player as defeating a level 45 enemy would normally be. XP is really a reward for the player, not the character, so they should receive a reward that makes the time they spend playing worthwhile.

Loot is a bit more complicated, since every player usually sees the same items. Rather than changing the loot drops, create a new way for high-level players to use low-level items.

Place a new vending machine in various cities around the world. Players can sell items to these vending machines, but they won’t receive money – instead, they’ll receive Loot Tickets. The number of tickets is based on the difference between the item’s level and the player’s level, and the player can’t receive tickets for an item that’s within 5 levels of their own, or a higher level than themselves. These tickets can then be traded in with these vending machines.

When checking this vending machine, every player sees a unique inventory screen, customized for their character. The machines show a broad selection of weapons and items that are appropriate to the character’s level and class, as well as an option to just give the player a random level-appropriate loot item. They can trade their Loot Tickets for these items.

In this way, the player has a reason to play with lower-level characters and pick up low-level items. The game still has challenge, and they can meaningfully cooperate with their teammates instead of overpowering them. They can continue to advance their characters at a meaningful rate, and transform the low-level items into stuff they can actually use.

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